Crime, corruption and chaos, Tamil Nadu's judicial badlands: Part 2 - Criminal Lawyering

Lawyers have been accused of extortion, murder, land-grab and criminal intimidation.
Crime, corruption and chaos, Tamil Nadu's judicial badlands: Part 2 - Criminal Lawyering
Crime, corruption and chaos, Tamil Nadu's judicial badlands: Part 2 - Criminal Lawyering
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This is part 2 of a three-part series. Read part 1 here.

In his suo motu order seeking CISF protection for the Madras HC, Justice TS Sivagnanam quotes from a police report submitted to the court on how lawyers allegedly behave in the court campus. The report says that advocates have beaten up police personnel several times within the campus. Police allege that lawyers refuse to show their ID card or follow parking rules, continue to play cricket inside the court campus, pass lewd remarks against women police personnel, take liquor inside the campus and also conduct ‘katta panchayat’ or kangaroo courts within the campus.

However, all the above allegations are about their conduct within the court campus. The real shocker lies in what some lawyers are alleged to be indulging in outside.

Lamenting on the state of affairs, retired Judge K Chandru says, “The reported incidents involving lawyers in Tamil Nadu in the past few years will show that not only there were murders in the court campus, mayhem both inside and outside courts, outright extortion and thuggery involving members of the so-called noble profession, intimidation, blackmail and court boycotts at the drop of a hat.  These incidents are on the increase. In most of the places the Bar virtually holds the court to ransom.”

Justice Chandru also points out to the trend of 'katta panchayats' or kangaroo courts. “There has been increasing complaints of some lawyers conducting kangaroo courts inside the court premises and trying to settle matters by themselves.  Witnesses are threatened and complainants are forced to withdraw complaints.  Parties are attacked physically. A recent trend is that the lawyers themselves go to the place of litigation (house eviction, land eviction etc.) and try to execute orders of the court by themselves without the court's intervention,” he says.

‘Adengappa Sqauds’: A saga of extortion, murder and rowdyism

They are called ‘adengappa squads’. The best translation one can come up with for ‘adengappa’, while also maintaining the emotional integrity of the word, is ‘oh my god’. The name perhaps alludes to the disbelief their actions evoke.

These squads are lawyer-goons for hire, armed with a degree in law and inclination towards rowdyism. You have a court order in your favour and yet someone is squatting over your property? Call the adengappa squads. They will swoop in and get the property vacated, even if it requires the use of force. Is there a court order against you, and you don’t want the police or city corporation to take action? Call the adengappa squads. For protection money, they will prevent the long arms of the law from reaching you – even if that means intimidating police officers or government officials.

In July this year, the Madras HC passed orders sealing illegally constructed buildings at Georgetown in Chennai. When a city official came to enforce the order at a restaurant, he reportedly found several men squatting on the property the whole day. All of them were dressed in black and white, claimed to be lawyers and threatened the city official that he would be booked under SC/ST act if he dared to touch the building. The city official returned without even lodging a protest.

This is only the easiest way these squads evade justice, and there have been worse cases of crime.

On September 14, 2013, Chennai-based neurosurgeon SD Subbiah was hacked to death by two assailants in full public view, allegedly over a property dispute. The main suspects in the case were two brothers, Basil and Boris. Basil is a lawyer at the Madras High Court.

When a sub-inspector entered the Madras High Court to arrest Basil, he was allegedly assaulted by advocates at the HC. The SI was beaten up in the campus while another lawyer, B Williams, believed to be one of the participants in the crime, escaped. Williams surrendered 15 months later at the Saidapet magistrate court. It was alleged that Williams hired hit-men for Rs. 50 lakh to kill the neurosurgeon to help his junior Basil and another Nagercoil-based doctor who had a dispute with Subbiah.

TNM has in its possession a report submitted by the police department to the TN Bar Council listing out the criminal cases in the South Zone of Chennai city in which lawyers are accused of various crimes. From 2011 to 2015, there have been 47 major cases against 107 lawyers, just in one zone in Chennai city. And these are cases of land grab, extortion, intimidation, physical assault and murder.

In one case, a 77-year old woman complained that twenty unknown advocates trespassed into her house where she has been living for 50 years, built a small thatched hut in front of her house and threatened her, understandably asking her to vacate the property. In another case, 25 lawyers are alleged to have entered a house, damaged property, threatened the family that they would rape her daughter and set her on fire unless the property is handed-over to them.

The list is long. The News Minute has also reported earlier on the lawyer-criminals of the trial courts in Egmore in Chennai.

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